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Close to Home: Making this area a GMO Free Zone

There is a grass-roots movement afoot in Sonoma County to join our neighbors to the north and south in creating a coastal GMO free zone. Volunteers for the group Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families can be spotted all over the county collecting signatures to qualify the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance for the ballot in November.

This ordinance would prohibit the 'propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of genetically engineered organisms in Sonoma County.'

Roundup-ready, genetically engineered crops (corn) and grasses (alfalfa, blue grass and fescue) are already moving into Sonoma County. New crops are awaiting approval. This ban on genetically engineered crops is needed in order to protect Sonoma County organic and conventional agriculture from contamination by genetically engineered plant pollen. Without this protection, our families, water and wildlife will continue to suffer from negative health and environmental effects associated with increased Roundup herbicide spraying.

While the overwhelming response to our signature drive has been positive, I have been perplexed over the past several months on the signature-gathering trail by some of the negative viewpoints expressed.

Argument: If we had this ordinance when Luther Burbank was alive, he couldn't have developed over 800 new strains of plants over his career.

Response: Burbank used selective breeding, hybridization and grafting to develop new strains and varieties of plants. This is a far cry from in vitro recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that take place in a petri dish by inserting genes from viruses, bacteria, plants, animals or even humans into the DNA or RNA of the plant or animal being genetically altered, fusing cells such that they overcome natural physiological and reproductive barriers. This ordinance would not have affected Burbank's work at all.

Argument: Genetically engineered crops increase yield and are the answer to the problem of world hunger. Why would we want to ban them?

Response: This has been the mantra of biotech companies selling their patented GMO seeds and Roundup herbicide around the world. Unfortunately, the reality hasn't lived up to the hype. For reference, see 'Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered crops' by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Argument: Bbiotech saves lives and can save our planet.

Response: This ordinance addresses only the growing of genetically engineered crops in Sonoma County. It will not affect biotech research in an indoor laboratory or any medical use of substances that may have been genetically engineered.

It targets GE crops because they can contaminate neighboring fields. Almost all genetically engineered crops have been engineered to resist the increased spraying of herbicides manufactured by the same ag biotech companies producing them, at the expense of the health of the people, the livestock and the environment.

If you would like to sign the petition to qualify the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance for the November ballot, you are most likely to find signature-gatherers at the following locations: Andy's Produce in Sebastopol; Oliver's; Community Market in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol; Pacific Market in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa; Sonoma County library branches as well as the DMV office, farmers markets and, on Saturdays, at the REI store in Santa Rosa.

Please visit our website, GMOFreeSonomaCounty.com, where you can volunteer, donate and endorse with ease. You will find many different volunteer opportunities listed.

In considering whether to become involved in the campaign for a GMO Free Sonoma County, please remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'

Pamela Gentry is a coordinator for Citizens for Health Farms and Families. She lives in Sebastopol.

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